This is the third post looking at the ten most common tenancy agreement breaches by tenants, as identified by Direct Line in their survey, which I discussed in the introduction to this series.
The Direct Line survey gives the percentage of tenants who keep a pet as 18%.
The first thing to say is that a pet prohibition clause is subject to the unfair terms regulations (now part of the Consumer Rights Act 2015). These provide that if you are making a prohibition (save for something which is illegal anyway), the clause should provide for the tenant to be able to request permission to do whatever-it-is and that the request should not be unreasonably refused.
Many landlords are unhappy about tenants keeping pets and refuse to allow them as a matter of course. Some of those landlords (without taking legal advice) amend the clause in their tenancy agreement to remove the wording providing for the tenant to apply for permission (which should not be unreasonably refused).
If your landlord has done this, then this renders the clause unfair and unenforceable – meaning that there is nothing, in the tenancy agreement, to stop you keeping a pet.
Even if there is a valid pet prohibition clause, a landlord can only refuse permission to keep a pet if it is reasonable to do so. This will often depend on the pet concerned.
If the animal is a large vigorous dog, the landlord will be quite within his rights to refuse permission, particularly if the property is a small property unsuitable for a large dog. However, if the pet is a small goldfish in a bowl or a stick insect – it is difficult to see how the landlord can reasonably complain about this. So a refusal to grant permission could be ‘unfair’.
Landlords most commonly complain about pets on the basis of
- Potential damage to the property
- Problems if future tenants are allergic to pets
- Fleas (and other pests), and
If you can show that none of these will be a problem – for example
- if you pay an extra deposit, maybe a non-refundable deposit to cover the cost of cleaning,
- show that you have taken precautions about fleas and
- that the animal is well behaved in your current home –
you may be able to persuade your landlord to let you keep it.
The consequences of keeping pets without permission
Landlords whose tenants are on assured shorthold tenancies always have the option of refusing to continue the tenancy at the end of the term and evicting you via the section 21 procedure.
If the animal is clearly unsuitable for your property and the tenancy agreement has a valid pet prohibition clause, it is arguable that, even if you have a long fixed term, the landlord would have the right to go to Court to claim a possession order based on your breach of contract (ground 12).
It is less straightforward case for landlords to do this as the ground is not a mandatory one so the Judge would have a discretion. However if your landlord is able to show, for example, that a dog is causing damage to the property and a nuisance to neighbours by constant barking – the Judge is highly likely to make a possession order, suspended so long as you get rid of the dog.
You are also risking your landlord giving a poor reference which will make it difficult for you to rent a property in the future. Most landlords would be unhappy about renting to a tenant who has kept a pet without permission – particularly if it was a pet which caused damage to the property.
Conclusion and advice
You should not keep a pet without permission. Even if your landlord’s pet prohibition clause is invalid, you risk losing your tenancy if he finds out.
The best thing to do is to show the landlord that the pet will not cause any problems, and put them insufficient funds in advance so that they are not out of pocket if there is pet damage when you leave.
As most landlords are unhappy about allowing pets – if you find someone who will allow this, I would advice taking enormous care to be an excellent tenant – so they will not have anything to complain about, and will give you (and the pet) an excellent reference if you need to move.
Note – the Landlord Law pet form (available foc to members of Landlord Law) can be used to take information about the pet and provide permission for the tenant and special clauses to protect the landlord’s position.
Can be used either at the start of the tenancy or later – if the landlord agrees to let the tenant keep a pet mid-term.